The Legend of Richard of Eastwell


Richard of Shrewsbury Royal Window Cantebury Cathedral

Richard, a bricklayer, had arrived in Eastwell in 1542 or 1543 and made his way to Lake House, because he had heard Sir Thomas was building a new mansion and he wanted to offer his services. Sir Thomas’ overseer gave him employment after the usual inquiries about his experience and recent employment. While Richard usually kept to himself, how he spent his leisure time soon attracted the attention of others. Sir Thomas was curious to know why his bricklayer liked nothing more than to spend his time apart from others with a book, and more curious as to why Richard would put the book away when anyone approached him. One day Sir Thomas decided to surprise Richard and snatch his book out of his hands, only to discover that the allegedly humble bricklayer was reading Latin, not the usual sort of reading material among the commoners.

When Sir Thomas asked how he “came by this learning” Richard told him that he had been a good master, and he would trust him with a secret he had never before revealed to anyone. He then told him the incredible tale of his life. He had boarded with a Latin schoolmaster until he was fifteen or sixteen, and a gentleman came once a quarter and paid for his board and see to his needs. Some time after the same gentleman came and told him he must take a trip with him “to the country”. The country was Bosworth Field, where he was taken to the tent of Richard III, who embraced him as his son. Richard III gave his son a purse of gold and bid him hide himself if the Battle was lost. Thus Richard Plantagenet made his way to London, selling his horse and his fine clothes, and apprenticing himself to a bricklayer.

The story has become a local legend in Eastwell. Richard Plantagenet did indeed exist. The parish records showed Richard died in 1550 at the age of 81. So far the obvious has always been assumed that either he was making it up, or that he was an illegitimate son of King Richard III.

But why would Richard III not acknowledge this illegitimate son? He had two illegitimate children, a son and a daughter, that he publicly acknowledged and looked after. Was the mysterious Richard of Eastwell hiding an even bigger secret?

Historian David Baldwin has challenged the identity of Richard Plantagenet, but while David thinks Richard Plantagenet was not the son of Richard III, he does think he had royal blood. David has claimed that Edward V, who had been receiving visits from his doctor before his disappearance, died of natural causes and that Richard of Shrewsbury, Duke of York, the younger of the famed “Princes in the Tower”, survived. And became “Richard Plantagenet”.

The Princes in the Tower

Edward V Royal Window Cantebury Cathedral

Edward V Royal Window Cantebury Cathedral

The story of the Princes in the Tower is one of the greatest mysteries of the middle ages. After Edward IV died, his young son, now King Edward V, was escorted into London by his uncle Richard, then Duke of Gloucester. As was the usual tradition, Edward was lodged in the Tower of London until his coronation took place. But Richard of Gloucester shocked everyone, seizing his nephew’s throne and declaring the marriage of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville invalid, and their children illegitimate.

Elizabeth still had her younger son in her keeping, she had fled to sanctuary in Westminster with the rest of her children. Richard III eventually pressured Elizabeth to give up her son to his safekeeping. She never saw either of her sons again.

Or so we have been led to believe. The story of the young king and prince being murdered was, and is, assumed. There is no evidence. There are no firm contemporary accusations, and moreover, there are no remains. The remains in Westminster Abbey that are alleged to be the princes were found in 1674, in the Tower at foundation level, ten feet down, under a staircase it had taken many workmen several days to dismantle. Hardly the stuff of a hasty burial.

It was never officially declared the princes were dead. Richard III was never accused by Henry VII, Elizabeth of York, Margaret Beaufort or Elizabeth Woodville of having murdered Edward V and Richard Duke of York. The most telling fact is that Elizabeth Woodville made her peace with Richard III. She sent her daughters to stay under his care at court (albeit making him swear a public oath not to harm them) and wrote to her son, who was in exile with Henry Tudor, urging him to make peace with Richard. Why would Princess Elizabeth of York inscribe her name in two books that belonged to her uncle, if she thought he had murdered her brothers?

It was not to either Richard III or Henry Tudor’s advantage to not produce a verdict, or scapegoat, for the fate of the Princes. It led to deep mistrust for Richard, something that factored in his downfall, and for Henry Tudor it gave cause for rebellion. While people thought a Prince of York might be living there was hope. Why did Henry Tudor not bother producing witnesses to identify the pretender Perkin Warbeck as an imposter? Why did he keep such a close eye on the small town of Colchester? Records show that on 31 January 1512 a pardon was granted to a “Richard Grey of Colchester, alias of North Creke, Norf., yeoman or labourer”. Grey was Elizbaeth Woodville’s name from her first marriage, and Richard III referred to her as Dame Elizabeth Grey after he sought to invalidate her marriage to King Edward IV.

 Was Richard III innocent of the most heinous crime he was accused of?

St. Mary's Church

St. Mary’s Church

If one seeks to exonerate Richard III of the crime of murdering his nephews, rather than look to unlikely candidates for the murder, perhaps we need to take a closer look at the mysterious Richard of Eastwell. The evidence for the survival of Richard of Shrewsbury is far more compelling than any evidence of his murder.

While the residents of Eastwell still embrace the local legend that he was the son of Richard III, they hope the mystery of his existence could be solved with the discovery of Richard III’s DNA. There is a tombstone in St. Mary’s Church is Eastwell that reads “Reputed to be the tomb of Richard Plantagenet”. Councillor Winston Michael, who represents Eastwell and Boughton Aluph on Ashford Borough Council, said he wanted DNA profiling to be used in an attempt to establish who is in the graveyard.

“Reputed to be the tomb of Richard Plantagenet”.

“Reputed to be the tomb of Richard Plantagenet”.

It may not solve the mystery of the true identity of Richard of Eastwell. It could prove whether or not he was of Richard III’s bloodline. The Queen has refused to grant permission to re-examine the urn allegedly containing the remains of Edward V and Richard of Shrewsbury in Westminster. But even if we could prove they were not the remains of the princes, we would be no closer to solving the mystery of their fate than before. David Baldwin told us that more clues have come to light since he wrote The Lost Prince seven years ago, and he hopes to revisit it someday.

Read our interview on Richard III with David Baldwin.

It’s Richard III week. Keep an eye out for more interviews with historians this week in History.

9780750943352The Lost Prince: The Survival of Richard of York by David Baldwin, published by The History Press 2009.

Buy The Lost Prince by David Baldwin

Did Richard, Duke of York, the younger of the Princes on the Tower, survive his imprisonment? David Baldwin opens up an entirely new line of investigation and offers a startling solution to one of the most enduring mysteries in English history and a final exoneration for Richard III.





19 Responses

  1. Linda

    Richard III’s DNA most likely would only be of use in proving a matrilineal link between him and the Princes. This is because it is highly likely that Richard III and Edward IV did not have the same father. I can see a possibility that sometime in the future the bones found in the tower will be tested against Richard’s DNA, However, if the test is for the presence of Plantagenet DNA, and it proves negative, the assumption will be that the remains are not of the Princes. To be sure of an accurate result, the DNA of Edward IV needs to be tested. I think that might prove very interesting.

    • Jasmine

      Currently only Richard’s mitochondrial DNA has been established and as this is passed through the female line only, it would be of no use regarding the bones in the urn because if they are indeed the princes’ bones, their mitochondrial DNA came from Elizabeth Woodville.

      There is no real evidence that Edward IV was illegitimate. This is a theory advocated by Michael Jones based on an ambiguous record in Rouen Cathedral.

      • Olga Hughes

        A theory that has been dismissed by every other historian since.

        I don’t think they’re going to have much luck finding Richard of Eastwell in any case, they’ve no record of where he was buried at present.

      • Linda

        Michael Jones didn’t start the rumour. Even Louis XI knew of it, and commented on it. I am not entirely convinced that Edward IV and Richard III had the same father, and if tests are ever done on the bones in the urn I think that Edward IV’s paternity needs to be established first. As far as I am aware, this cannot be done with current scientific methods as Y-DNA (male line) cannot be extracted from skeletal remains.

      • Jasmine

        Linda, the rumour was originally made by Warwick during his rebellion. Casting doubts on the legitimacy of your opponent was a well known tactic – that doesn’t make it true. The French king also had his political reasons for saying it too.

        I would refer you to Cecily, Duchess of York’s will, written a few days before her death. In it she categorically stated that Edward was the true son of her husband. For a deeply religious woman like Cecily (who spent the last years of her life as a lay sister) to write such a huge lie in her will just before death would have put her soul in danger. I don’t believe she would do that.

      • Linda

        I would still like to see tests carried out to remove any doubt, if and when such tests become available. Not that it’s likely that the royals will ever agree to testing.

      • Linda


        To determine Edward IV’s paternity, it would probably be necessary to DNA test his DNA against that of Richard III’s father, Richard of York. This apparently is not currently a scientific possibility as male Y-DNA cannot be extracted from skeletal remains, as far as I know. I don’t know if a brother-to-brother DNA test could be carried out between Edward IV and Richard III without involving the DNA of Richard of York, should Y-DNA testing on skeletal remains ever become a possibility.

      • Jasmine

        I think you are right in that there will be no permission granted for the wholesale exhumation of various royals in order to test what is at best a very far-fetched theory. One of the main arguments against re-examining the bones in the urn is that agreeing to that will open the door to further requests.

        In the absence of such tests, I prefer to put my faith in Cecily and what she wrote in her will, and also the fact that Richard, Duke of York, always regarded Edward as his heir, and given that his blood descent from Lionel of Clarence was the main plank in his claim to be the rightful king, I cannot see the duke agreeing to raise a nameless bastard as his heir and probably future king.

  2. Terry

    I agree with you on the idea of properly examining the bones in the urn. I doubt if that will EVER be ‘allowed’ though……….

      • Linda

        Can you imagine the furore if it were ever revealed that RIII and Edward IV did not have the same father? It would mean that the current royal bloodline was originally illegitimate. DNA science is advancing all the time, maybe one day the question will be settled properly.

      • Olga Hughes

        I think it’s an overall stance the Queen has taken Dale. If she allows one exhumation then surely more requests will follow – and there where does it stop? I’m not fond of the idea of people being dug up willy-nilly to try and disprove theories. I know the Princes are a far more contentious issue of course but then, if they are exhumed, what will it prove? Even if the remains are someone else’s, and I think it is likely those are not Edward and Richard’s remains, it doesn’t prove anything. We still wouldn’t know if they had survived, their remains could simply lie elsehwere, or if they had been murdered, or who murdered them.

      • Olga Hughes

        Seriously Linda for someone who has not even taken the time to read Jones’ Bosworth book you certainly cherish his unfounded and completely speculative theory that Edward IV was illegitimate. Why don’t you come and tell us how likely it is when you’ve actually read the book and had a look at the sources?

      • Linda

        I’m entitled to my view, aren’t I? Truth is, the matter can’t be settled properly either way at the moment.

      • Olga Hughes

        You are entitled to tell me Edward was fathered by a green imp if you please Linda, but unless you have the evidence to back it up, which you do not, I am not going to entertain slanderous and sexist propaganda which originated from the same man who tried to accuse Jacquetta of Luxembourg of being a witch – nor pretend we should be taking it seriously 500 years later.

  3. Martin

    I really enjoyed David Baldwin’s book. I’m not convinced Richard of Eastwell was actually the Duke of York but it is an interesting theory.
    Has there been any updates on this proposed search?

    • Olga Hughes

      Nothing I have heard of yet Martin, I am not sure they’ve got any idea where he is actually buried within the churchyard.

      • Jasmine

        As there is no information as to where Richard of Eastwell was actually buried (unlike Richard III) and unless his remains have a neat little label round his neck giving his name, it is extremely unlikely that a match could be made, unless the Planatagenet Y DNA is confirmed.
        If there are many male skeletons uncovered under any search, then it could take a long time to establish any identity and that supposes that Richard of Eastwell is related to a male Planatagenet – something which currently rests on anecdotal hearsay and a cryptic note in the Church’s Burial Register.

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